Production to Distribution
by Danny Torres
CEO Continuum Motion Pictures
When making a movie, it’s never too early to think about putting your film in the best position for distribution. The hope of all filmmakers is that their film finds an audience. The payoff for putting time, energy and money into a project is that in the end, you hope that people will love your work as much as you do. Over the past few years, I’ve talked to hundreds of filmmakers and have noticed a few pitfalls that independent producers and directors often fall into that make the road to distribution a little bumpier for them. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to address the different aspects of production and offer some steps that a new filmmaker can take in order to put him or herself in the best position to get an audience for their film.
Before you ever cast your film, secure your locations, and finalizing your screenplay, there’s a pivotal first step every filmmaker must take: understanding who your audience is. Some films are made for children. Others are made for teenage boys who watch Cinemax at one in the morning. Chances are, your film will fall somewhere in between that spectrum. Having a clear understanding of who your target audience is will help guide your decision making through the production process, from what you show to the tone of your film,to how many curse words you use. Did you know the use of more than one f-word results in an automatic R-rating? Or that if your single use of the f-word explicitly refers to sex, it is also an automatic R-rating? There are exceptions to this rule, but don’t assume your film will be one of them. Know who you’re making your film for. Know your genre. The audience for a romantic comedy is quite different from the audience for a horror film. By having a clear genre and audience, it’ll be easier to convey what kind of film you have to potential distributors.
The second major step in Pre-Production is having the right title. Normally, this would go without saying, but there are a few things that you can use to make your film stand out amongst the myriad of independent films that are out there. First, you want a title that the average person can spell. If someone can’t spell your film, how do you expect him or her to ever find it? Next, make your film title original enough so that it can be found quickly through a search engine, be it Google or iTunes or the Moviefone App. And lastly, make your title something that gives a strong hint as to what your film is about, suggesting the genre and story. While that sounds like a lot for just something that may only be just a few words, the importance of a good title can never be understated. The Shawshank Redemption is a great film, but not knowing anything about the film, would you ever watch it just based on the title? More often than not, you saw it because someone highly recommended it to you. Your title is one of the most important sales tools you will ever have for your film.
Once you actually start shooting your film, there’s only one thing a distributor cares about — do you have legal clearance for every single thing that’s in your movie? This includes the cast, the locations, any crew that is in behind-the-scene photos and videos, and even the extras in the background. If something is in focus or can be recognized, you must have permission to use it. Very important to know: this also includes logos for products. Ever notice the little TM logo or circled R that looks like this ®? That means you must have permission to show that logo or item in your film. If you don’t have permission, you can’t show it. The same goes with your actors. You must have a signed agreement stating you are allowed to show the actor’s face and likeness in not only the film, but on marketing materials as well. Filming outside of a restaurant? You must have the permission of the restaurant owner to use his or her business’ name. If you don’t have permission in writing, be prepared to digitally erase that image prior to getting distribution. If you are unable to do so, this may put your chances of getting distribution in jeopardy. The wisest thing to do is simply be aware of what’s in your frame and be ready to have people and location owners sign agreements before you even start filming. You’ll save yourself a mountain of headaches and be glad that you did so.
Post-Production and Beyond
After you’ve completed filming, the journey of making your movie is nearing its end, but your journey for distribution is only just beginning. Always make sure to keep your files around and handy as you don’t know when or where they’ll be needed. Just because a shot wasn’t used in the film doesn’t mean you need to delete it forever. This is especially important with your sound files if you’re looking to get foreign distribution. While your film may have been filmed for an English-speaking audience, other people who don’t speak English may want to enjoy your film, too. Having what’s called an M&E Track (for Music and Effects) available for your film will make the process of dubbing your dialogue into another language much easier. If you don’t know how to create an M&E Track, there are people out there who can help you, but only if you keep all your sound files!
Next, color correct your film! While digital cameras are getting better every year, they all still have a slight, “digital haze” on them that adds a grayish-white tint to your image. This can easily be fixed in color correction. Like photoshop or instagram, color correcting allows you to manipulate your film to brighten colors, darken blacks, and just make your film have an overall better look and feel. Every studio film is color corrected and for a reason — it makes your film look better! I highly recommend doing so.
And lastly, the importance of music to a film can go without saying. But, like logos, you must have the right to use the music in your film. And please, avoid the problem of getting only the “festival rights” to your soundtrack. Distributors aren’t too keen on having to pay for something that they assume you already had covered. They’ll more likely just replace your music with something less expensive and now your soundtrack just changed. Get all your rights for your film for as long as you plan on having your film be out there, which, with any luck, will be for many, many years to come.
Next time, I’ll be addressing the marketing phase of your film– now that you have something to show, what do you do to get people interested in watching it!
Note: Continuum Motion Pictures distributes on DVD, Theatrically, Google play, iTunes, Amazon Instant, Vudu, Xbox, Playstation and more.